How to create sustainable growth at your company
When Maxime Dubois and Alexandre Guimond bought Altitude Sports in 2011, the company’s online sales were already outpacing those at its two stores.
The two high school buddies had worked for several years at the retailer of high‑end outerwear and led the development of the e‑commerce operation. When the original owner decided to focus on other business ventures, Dubois and Guimond took the plunge and purchased the company.
They saw the potential to put the business on a far more aggressive growth trajectory. But to achieve those ambitions, they needed to not only harness the power of e‑commerce, but also take a no‑nonsense approach to managing the company’s growth.
Business systems that had sufficed when the company consisted of two retail stores would no longer do the job when orders were flowing in from across Canada, and sales were doubling every year.
Keeping their promise
To both deliver on their promise to customers and keep pace with growth at the company—now called Altitude-sports.com—they had to introduce new systems and processes.
“Just because you’re in e‑commerce doesn’t mean you’re going to reinvent the wheel,” Dubois says. “It’s a question of executing on business fundamentals as best you can.”
The young entrepreneurs started with a new inventory system because keeping track of more than 30,000 individual items and achieving excellence in order fulfillment requires precision.
Introducing new tools
The partners also introduced financial management controls, including detailed cash‑flow projections, to ensure liquidity during slow periods in their highly seasonal business.
They created dashboards so they could monitor key performance indicators in each area of their business, from financial performance and inventory to marketing and information technology.
Another important initiative was to bring website development and marketing functions inside the company and stop using agencies for this work, Dubois says.
Getting great advice
To help guide them in all these efforts, Dubois and Guimond put together an advisory board, consisting of three business veterans who have provided the young entrepreneurs with invaluable advice and mentorship.
“We’ve got three guys at different ages and with various backgrounds—marketing, financing and technology—ready to guide us and share their business network with us.”
All of the hard work is paying off. The company they bought in 2011 had 15 employees, mainly to run its stores in Montreal and in the Mont‑Tremblant ski resort, north of the city. Today, Altitude-sports.com employs more than 100 people and e‑commerce accounts for over 90% of its sales. It delivered 90,000 packages last year, up from 45,000 in 2013.
Building the foundation
BDC Senior Account Manager Jean‑Philippe Salvas says Dubois and Guimond have built a foundation for sustainable growth at their company.
Many companies that run into trouble because their management practices and systems don’t keep pace with the demands of a growing business in a changing marketplace, says Salvas, a member of BDC’s technology financing team in Montreal who has provided loans to Altitude-sports.com.
Focusing on client experience
Tight management is particularly important in e‑commerce, where the competition is just a click away. Dubois says that’s why an excellent customer experience both on the site and after a purchase is so important.
“We have worked hard to build a well‑oiled machine relying on fast delivery and simple, easy and free returns,” Dubois says.
To that end, customer service reps are available for questions or comments all week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., by phone and online, anywhere in Canada. The company also has a flexible 60‑day return policy and most returns are free. All orders leave the warehouse within 24 hours of the moment the client places his or her order, and delivery is fast.
Restructuring for e-commerce
Dubois and Guimond started structuring the company for e‑commerce back in 2008, when Dubois joined the company as Marketing Director. “Alexandre had already been working for the company for years and had created the base of the online strategy,” Dubois says.
In 2009, they launched a new version of the Altitude-sports.com website—one with a secure and easy‑to‑use e‑store. Then, the pair started Altitude-blog.com, where employees and “ambassadors” could publish product reviews, travel stories and outdoor cooking tips.
In 2010, Dubois and Guimond launched a partner discount website called TheLastHunt.com that serves as a stock liquidator for previous seasons of Altitude-sports.com merchandise.
An ongoing job
Dubois says introducing systems and processes to support the company’s growth has been a “huge job.” And it doesn’t stop.
“We’re not perfect. We need to improve each year,” he says. “But we feel we’re on solid ground to achieve the vision we have for the company: Become the No. 1 online retailer of high‑end outerwear in Canada by the end of 2016.”